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Interactions between freshwater mussels and newts: a novel form of parasitism?

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image of Amphibia-Reptilia

Small freshwater mussels are sometimes found attached to the toes of aquatic phase amphibians, but the ecological implications of this interspecific relationship are unknown. Toe condition and mussel presence were recorded for newts caught in 37 ponds in Luxembourg between March and June 2007. All four local newt species were affected (Lissotriton helveticus, L. vulgaris, Mesotriton alpestris and Triturus cristatus), primarily by the mussel Sphaerium nucleus but also by Pisidium subtruncatum. Mussel attachment was observed in three ponds, with a particularly high occurrence in one pond, where 23% of newts were affected and significantly more toes were damaged than in other ponds. Mussels caused local tissue and bone damage to their host and may interfere with egg-laying. Twenty-two newts with attached mussels were observed in aquaria for up to 3 days: 13 mussels detached when the newt's toe fell off and nine remained attached. If the mussels benefit from the interaction through, for example, enhanced dispersal then the relationship between the two taxa represents a novel form of parasitism.

Affiliations: 1: The Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, Marlowe Building, Canterbury, CT2 7NR, UK; 2: VHÖ/BBN, Mainzer Str. 25, D-55546 Hackenheim, Germany; 3: Musée national d'histoire naturelle, 25 rue Münster, L-2160 Luxembourg; 4: Service de la Conservation de la Nature, Direction des Eaux et Forêts, 16 rue Eugène Ruppert, L-2453 Luxembourg


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